How to evaluate electoral management?

How to evaluate electoral management?

Assessing the quality of an election or the performance of organisation responsible for delivering an election is a difficult task.  What should evaluators be looking for?  These principles and tools may help:

Be Comprehensive: Performance Management Matrix

It is important that all aspects of an organisation are periodically reviewed to see whether they are ‘fit for purpose’.  One comprehensive approach that has been developed to structure such an evaluation is a performance management matrix (see the figure on the right).  This was established by identifying the key dimensions of performance that are commonly used to assess other government departments and then applying it to elections.

The framework suggests that electoral management bodies should review the organisational outputs of electoral authorities (services provided or good produced), the service outcomes (the effectiveness of these outputs), the responsiveness (of the organisation to citizens and its own staff) and the democratic probity of the organisation (how does it deal with complaints and what systems of accountability are there?).  These four dimensions can be used to structure an assessment of electoral management body in any jurisdiction.

The Electoral Management Performance Matrix:
The Electoral Management Performance Matrix: from James (2014) ‘Electoral Management in Britain’, in Advancing Electoral Integrity Pippa Norris (ed), Oxford University Press.

Be regular: Avoid Institutional Drift

It is also important to subject the electoral process to regular review.  Without regular review, procedures can drift and become out of date.  For example, electoral registration systems remained largely unchanged in Britain from 1918 to 2014.  The functioning of elections was undermined as a result.

Frameworks are fine.  But what data can be collected to assess the quality of an election?

Collect Front Line Data: Use Poll Worker Surveys

Poll worker studies provide direct access to the problems experienced on the frontline of elections.  They involves circulating a survey to all staff who have worked at a polling station or at the count for an election. Research has shown that these can identify problems on the frontline of elections that managers and policy makers were not aware of.  For example a poll worker survey demonstrated that two-thirds of polling stations turned away at least one would-be voter at the 2015 general election because they were not registered.  They can also reassure the public, media and politicians that elections are much more problem free than they expect.